Courtesy Harris FarmsJohn Harris, right, chief executive officer of Coalinga, Calif.-based Harris Farms, discusses water policy with Sen. Dianne Feinstein during a May 2013 Western Growers Association meeting in Washington, D.C.Spring lettuce will be one of the first crop casualties if water allocations to Fresno County growers — already just 20% last year — are eliminated this year.
Duda Farm Fresh Foods, which operates a transitional deal in Huron, Calif., plans to skip that production. And Harris Farms, based in the county, will probably abandon the 3,000 acres it devotes to lettuce — 1,500 each in the spring and fall — said William Bourdeau, executive vice president.
Initial water allocations, expected around March 1, are almost certain to be zero according to Fresno, Calif.-based Westlands Water District.
“A lot of land is going to be fallow and a lot of people are going to be unemployed,” Bourdeau said. “Everyone’s scrambling.”
The district’s bleak assessment came in response to a Jan. 3 snow survey by the California Department of Water Resources that underscored the state’s drought problem. Growers, though, argue that pumping restrictions and water policy make their situation worse than it need be.
For Harris Farms, stopping spring and fall production would mean about 72 million fewer heads of lettuce – mostly romaine and iceberg – hitting the market. Altogether, the company plans to fallow 9,000 of its 14,000 Westside acres. Among affected crops are melons, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli and cabbage.
“The only reason we’re not fallowing more is because the rest are permanent crops — either almonds, pistachios or asparagus,” Bourdeau said.
Duda Farm Fresh Foods plans to extend its Yuma, Ariz., season on leaf items and start early in the Salinas Valley to make up for the loss of Huron lettuce in late March and early April. It’s about a three-weak deal.
“For the first time ever, we’re not going to Huron this spring,” said Sammy Duda, vice president. “Our grower didn’t know what allocation if any he would get. It’s not final that we’re never going back, but it’s had an impact on our program.”
Duda expects no supply gap, but spring gaps could become more common if Huron proves unfeasible in future years.
“There’s a reason we switch districts when we do,” he said. “You’re trying to be in the best place all the time and each of these growing districts has a normal beginning and end. Any time you stretch those windows, you’re in less certain territory.”
Salinas, Calif.-based Coastline Produce, on the other hand, anticipates only a slight reduction in its Huron acreage for iceberg, said Mark McBride, salesman. In recent years some Salinas companies, such as D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, stopped going to Huron for various reasons. Improved growing techniques and varieties in Yuma extended the season there, shortening the Huron transition. Others still consider it an important transition.